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Columns - On Mint Street


One for the poor, please

P. Devarajan

TOP nationalised and private banks are setting up new homes at the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BanKex). ICICI Bank, Bank of Baroda, Unit Trust, and ILFS have been the first movers into daunting glass and cement structures while others like Bank of India will be shifting shortly. An exception is the head office of Nabard which looks like some hastily abandoned railway quarters.

Walk into any of these offices, which look alike, and you will cower in fright. Anyway, these days depositors are running away from bankers and they can't be blamed as bankers can make profits only by skinning the depositors. Bankers, who had earlier to travel around 10 minutes in office cars spend at least 30 to 40 minutes now and some of the sensitive ones are getting a glimpse of the poverty dotting the approach roads to BanKex. Yet, BanKex will not replace Mint Street as the RBI Towers is on Mint Street. One banker said, "Mulla ka doud masjid thak (Mulla runs only up to the masjid)'' and every banker has to run up to RBI Towers when the summons come. Every bank chairman, like Mohammed-bin-Tughlaq, loves to have his own ramparts and at BanKex you can see it.

For many with some work to do with the august gentleman in BanKex, it's a long journey in Mumbai's heat. One has to get down at Bandra Station on the Western Railway, catch an auto or a BEST bus to arrive at the portals of these banks. Then comes security with everyone looked down as a suspect from across the border. A commando or a body guard tails you (even to the toilets) till you reach the cabin of the officer who has given an appointment. Well, that's the way snooty and arrogant bankers in foreign banks work and nationalised banks are going by international norms. At Bandra Station, if any banker cares to see, there is a big slum called Behrampada where the poor live in twin-tiered tin shanties running into each other.

Can the financial community of BanKex come together and think of a scheme to improve the slums. One is not talking of displacing them. Rather, cheap housing loans can be given to strengthen their living sites, funds could be provided for mobile health and educational vans and kiosks financed to keep going traditional units. Surely these banks will have a few sincere officials prepared to do the work by teaming up with civic officials. The poor living here do not have collaterals but are not fugitives from law like Indian corporates. They will return loans and one is not talking of cheap loans. The BanKex could set up a Bankers' NGO for Behrampada to provide a menu of loan products at say 10 per cent. Perhaps, Nabard could take the initiative as it has some experience funding NGOs. Neither Dr. Bimal Jalan nor the municipal commissioner will object, as there is no charity involved.

On October 29, the RBI credit policy said, "The SHG-bank linkage programme has proved that banking with the poor is a viable proposition. It also benefited the banks by externalising the credit delivery process and ensuring more than 95 per cent recoveries, besides being cost-effective.'' Will it happen?

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One for the poor, please


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